03/31/2014 04:03 pm ET Updated May 31, 2014

The Gifted Speaker: 'Like, Um, Like, Like, Like, You Know, You Know' -- Filler Overload

"So um, today I'd like to talk about like, you know, um, like, like you know... "

If there is any one bad speech habit that makes me check out it's filler. Similar to our habit of the up-inflection we discussed a week ago, nothing annoys an audience more.

The up-inflection and the filler are frequent complaints I hear from people about speakers. Here's what my readers said about the up-inflection:

"This is like nails on a chalkboard. Why do they do it?"
"This makes me so crazy."
"I hate when people do this, I can't listen to them."
"This and like, like, like. I just hate it!"

The problem with the up-inflection and the filler is that for most people those habits become the entirety of the speech. The sound of a like, like, like, makes many of us start to bristle. I know when I listen to it I start to wonder if the person talking actually has something to say or simply decided it was their turn to talk.

For many people the filler is ingrained into their daily speech and difficult to get rid of. As ingrained as this is however keep in mind; nothing will make you sound less professional, too young to know your subject and yet again put people on the fast train to not listening to you. You could be talking about the cure for cancer, the stock that will make us all rich or the absolute biggest revolution in technology but I will not have heard you. You could be the smartest person who ever uttered the words "OMG, like, um, you know" but I will have checked out after the first paragraph.

I can't control my fillers.

This one is tough. I'm not sure you can fix this problem without help but here are some things you can try.

  • Tape yourself and count. The sheer embarrassment of that number may make you think twice about using the filler.
  • Slow down and don't improvise your speech. Memorize it. Know your topic so well that no matter what happens in the room you will not get derailed and start adding filler.
  • Hire a coach or enlist a friend to listen to you. Have them count the number of times you use fillers. It will probably be important in this fix to enlist someone who doesn't use a lot of fillers when they talk.
  • Assess why you use the filler. Do you get derailed? Do you really want to talk or do you feel obligated to talk? Is it just a habit that you and your friends do?

It's Not Hopeless
I have many students who have struggled with this problem. All of them have been able to conquer it with some success. Most important though is consider where you are and what you are trying to say. There is a time and place for everything. I'm sure you'd rather those CEOs you are trying to sell your product to did not hear you say, "OMG like, like, you know?"

If you can't rid yourself of the filler, hire a coach. Ask yourself: Is filler what you want to be remembered for? Or do you want to remembered for what you talked about?